A Classroom Without Walls
Imagine if you could learn about a solar eclipse by experiencing it from outer space. Today, this is becoming a reality for some students, or at least a virtual reality.
Augmented Reality (“AR”), Virtual Reality (“VR”) and Mixed Reality (“MR”) (collectively known as “xR”) technologies are being leveraged to create out-of-this-world, or even out-of-this-time experiences in numerous settings, including the classroom. As an education investment bank, we are consistently asked by investors to help them understand the different technologies at play. AR is an emerging technology that uses a smart device’s camera to overlay digital aspects onto the real world (think Pokémon GO). VR creates an immersive, new digital environment, typically by using a wearable headset. MR is a combination of AR and VR that involves overlaying holographic images onto the real world using a headset or glasses. While xR has been around for decades, its applications in the classroom are just beginning to turn heads.
Education has fundamentally remained the same for centuries, consisting of lecture and study largely through traditional classrooms, paper and chalkboards. Like so many other aspects of our lives, technology is taking hold in the classroom as well, leading to a paradigm shift in how students of tomorrow will learn. Specifically, xR is being used to break down the obstacles that our brains face in the subconscious process of translating aural and/or written information into the visual/3D model that our brains prefer. In other words, our brains work in 3D, so shouldn’t students’ learning materials? By using 3D experiences provided by xR classrooms, students attain information faster, and retain knowledge longer, resulting in significantly enhanced learning and outcomes. Moreover, xR has the capacity to provide completely personalized learning experience for students.
Beyond leading a paradigm shift in education, xR provides access to experiential learning opportunities for more students, more often. For example, instead of reading about Galileo’s scientific discoveries in a textbook, students can travel back to the year 1610 and stand next to Galileo as he discovers Jupiter’s four moons, and even look through the same rudimentary telescope that he used to make the discovery! Do you think that astronomy lesson might stick with you for a while? This same concept can easily be applied to the medical field as well, where the exorbitant cost of operating a medical lab necessitates that it only be accessed by the most accomplished students and medical professionals. With xR, every student can have access to his or her own virtual lab.
Students, parents and educators are not the only parties taking notice of xR’s applications. An estimated $3 billion in 2017 in venture capital investment has been funneled into the AR/VR technology sector. In addition to private investment, big names like Google (products: Google Expedition Kits / Cardboard) and Microsoft (product: HoloLens) are also spending money on xR-focused research and development as they prepare to battle over the emerging markets of the virtual world.
In conclusion, xR’s promise of enhanced educational opportunities is one of many reasons why this technology has the potential to impact worldwide education.